Art of the Demo, Tips and Ideas

Having been a Sales Engineer for a lot of years, I’ve had the opportunity to give a lot of software demonstrations. I have also seen a lot of demonstrations done over the years, as a customer and from partners. I thought I’d do a short post today with a few demonstration tips and ideas that I’ve incorporated over the years to help you deliver more effective demonstrations.

Demo tips and ideas

Keep It Simple

One reason we are Sales Engineers is we love technology. We like installing it, configuring it, working with it and telling others about it. Because of that, we can sometimes fall into the trap of over doing it in a demonstration. If our product has 79 really cool features, we want to show at least 75 of them to the customer. I’ve referred to this as a feature dump demonstration. 

Sometimes less is more. We have to remember that our audiences don’t know our software inside out like we do. Showing too many features in an action packed hour long demo can actually cause confusion instead of wonderment. Your customer may not be able to consume everything you’re throwing at them in such a short time. 

In these situations, I think it’s often better to focus on the core capabilities of your product, relate them to the clients requirements and only show other features that are relevant to the customers need. At the end of the demonstration you want to be sure they understand how your product will solve a problem and make them successful.

Bullets, not Paragraphs

I once had a boss that preached this philosophy when it came to writing emails or status reports. Give me bullets, not paragraphs. The same can be true when responding to questions from your client. I’ve personally fallen into this trap (just this week as a matter of fact) and I see a lot of others do it.

If a question can be answered with a simple, “Yes we can do that” then stop there rather than trying to explain the technical minutiae behind how you can do that. Sometimes a more technical, detailed answer is required, especially if you’re dealing with a technical audience or you’re asked a detailed question but usually simple is better. Gauge your response based on a combination of the audience and the question.

Make it Interactive

Unless you’re a talk show host, or a stand up comedian, try not to turn a demo into a monologue. Get the audience engaged throughout the demonstration. I always start my demo’s off with the same statement, “Interrupt me at any point with questions. I do not mind being interrupted”. An engaged audience will retain what you tell them much longer than one that’s just staring at the screen.

White board graph

If an audience isn’t interacting with you, ask questions throughout to engage them. “What’s your current business process? How do you manage this today? Does this make sense? Any questions so far?” Ask leading questions where possible so you don’t get a simple yes/no answer. Or stand up, point to items on the screen you want to highlight, or sketch on the whiteboard. Break up the routine of the demo. Often your audience may be reluctant to speak up, but once you break the ice with a question or two they’ll get engaged.

Manage Objections

During any presentation or demonstration, it’s not unusual to have objections raised. There may be someone in the room with a preference for a competitors software or users adverse to change. They will raise objections to how your product works, or complain it doesn’t have feature x or feature y, say it doesn’t solve their problem, or my personal favorite, “Can your product do z?” 

Arguing with the client about why your way is better is often a losing proposition. All this achieves is an adversarial relationship. It’s usually more effective to probe into why they are asking the question. Try to determine if it’s a bias for another product, if it’s a lack of understanding on how your product works, or just tunnel vision on how to solve a problem. Anytime you can deflect objections, provide alternatives or neutralize the issue you’ve achieved your objective. 

One of my favorite tricks when asked, “Can your product do z?” is to flip the question back at the questioner. Especially if it’s someone who’s wanted to play a game of Stump the Presenter throughout the demo. Ask, “How do you do z today?” You’ll be shocked how often the answer is “We don’t do that today”. “So, if we can do Z it’s added value to your organization, is that right?” Objection neutralized.

Summary

These are a few of the demonstration tips and ideas I’ve found that make me more successful. I constantly have to monitor myself and not fall back into old habits or traps.

What tips do you have for delivering effective demonstrations? Or handling objections? Feel free to put them in the comments sections.

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